When a loved one is lost due to an accident, your family may be left with unanswered questions to complicate your grief. What may be worse are the medical and funeral costs and the loss of income left behind by that loss. While a legal battle may be the last thing you want to go through at this time, it can help resolve questions surrounding the individual’s death. Additionally, a wrongful death settlement can help you recover from the financial burden that resulted from the accidental death of your loved one.
The Basics of a Wrongful Death Case
Before you contact a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles, it may help you to understand more about what a wrongful death case involves. This is a civil matter handled by lawyers who have experience in these types of cases, such as our Beverly Hills wrongful death attorneys, and generally follows a criminal case. Under certain circumstances, the state will employ the criminal justice system to punish an individual for causing the death of another.
Even in cases where the defendant is acquitted, the family of the victim may still proceed with a civil claim. A civil suit, which may first start out as a wrongful death insurance claim, requires a lower burden of proof than a criminal case, which means there’s a stronger likelihood that the plaintiff will be able to win the case.
Whether a negligent accident results in a wrongful death from a car accident, medical malpractice, slip and fall, or some other type of accident, it almost always involves a wrongful death insurance claim. Insurance adjusters will likely reach out to the family of the victim to offer them a quick settlement, but, if this happens with you, it’s wise to consult a personal injury attorney in Los Angeles before considering any offer. This type of voluntary wrongful death settlement offer will typically be a low estimate and may not even be enough to cover the immediate expenses of medical bills and funeral arrangements. An experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a better settlement for your family and, in the event this type of mediation fails, they will already be up to speed on the facts of the case. This will help, if the case is referred to civil court.
Who Can File a Wrongful Death Lawsuit?
When it comes to filing a lawsuit over a negligent accident, it’s important to know that only certain individual’s may qualify to file the suit. The person filing the wrongful death lawsuit must be appointed as the decedent’s personal representative by the victim’s estate. This person is acting on behalf of those family members directly affected by the death of the individual.
While this stipulation varies from state to state, every jurisdiction allows a spouse to file a wrongful death suit over the death of the other spouse. Where the death of a minor child is concerned, either parent may retain a wrongful death lawyer for the purposes of seeking damages. Conversely, minor children are permitted to collect damages for the accidental deaths of their parents. In these areas, all states are generally in agreement.
The laws begin to differ between jurisdictions, when the relationships grow more distant. Typically, it must be proven that the death caused a financial hardship on the individual, so some states won’t allow parents of adult children to file a suit, while others prohibit individuals from suing over the accidental death of an adult sibling. In other circumstances, suing over the death of an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or cousin may similarly be prohibited.
Some states show leniency in this area, where there wasn’t a marriage. Depending on the laws in your jurisdiction, a life partner may bring a civil action over the negligent death of the other partner. Typically, if an individual can show a financial dependence on the decedent, he or she may be permitted to sue for damages.
The Elements of a Wrongful Death Case
Just as is true in any civil lawsuit, there must be certain elements that must be met for a trial to move forward. The plaintiff must be able to establish all of these elements through their wrongful death lawyer in order to win a judgment. There are four primary elements:
- Negligence – The plaintiff must be able to prove that the defendant (or multiple defendants) acted recklessly or carelessly and that it was that negligence that caused the death.
- Breach of Duty – The plaintiff must establish that the defendant had a duty of care toward the decedent and that the duty was breached. For instance, in a slip and fall incident, the owner of the facility had a duty to make sure the floor was clear and free of hazards. If an individual slips on a wet surface and falls, resulting in his or her death, that business owner breached his duty.
- Cause – The plaintiff must also establish a link between the breach and the death of the individual. For instance, a wrongful death from a car accident might assert that it was the other driver’s responsibility to stop for a red light. By failing to stop, he breached that duty and struck the pedestrian, causing his death. The individual’s death was directly caused by the driver’s failure to stop.
- Damages – Finally, the plaintiff must be able to show damages, meaning they must be able to establish proof that the death caused a financial hardship. This may mean presenting proof that the decedent was financially responsible for a spouse or minor children, but there are many more factors that may be cited.
What is Included in Wrongful Death Damages?
Whether your case involves medical malpractice, an auto accident, a slip and fall, or another type of accident, the damages are generally the same. While not all of these damages will apply to every case, these are the most commonly cited damages by plaintiffs seeking compensation.
- Pain and suffering (prior to the victim’s death)
- Costs of medical care preceding the victim’s death
- Costs of the funeral and burial
- Loss of income provided by the decedent
- Loss of inheritance
- Loss of services formerly performed by the decedent
- Loss of care, where the decedent was a parent or looking after an elderly family member
- Grief, or loss of love
- Loss of companionship
In some cases, the jury in a civil trial may also award punitive damages. These are not damages intended to compensate the plaintiff, but are applied to punish the defendant. As such the award of punitive damages is usually a significant amount, particularly where a commercial company or government agency is named as a defendant. The judgment is meant to “hit them where it hurts” and compel the entity to change their practices to avoid similar incidents in the future.
If you have lost a loved one in an accident and feel you may have a case for a wrongful death settlement, you should avoid accepting a settlement, before you consult with a legal advocate. By discussing your case with a Beverly Hills wrongful death attorney, you can learn more about how the law can help you in your particular circumstances. Going through a legal battle is never easy, especially after suffering a permanent and devastating loss, but having the right lawyer working for you can make the experience less stressful. Grieving the loss is hard enough without adding the additional financial burden caused by that loss.
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